Dionne Christian is the NZ Herald’s arts and books editor

Railing against uniformity

In Transit (Arrival) is likened to a metallic fishnet which has caught the flotsam and jetsam of discarded consumer products.
In Transit (Arrival) is likened to a metallic fishnet which has caught the flotsam and jetsam of discarded consumer products.

If laid end-to-end, the steel tubes in artist Yona Lee's latest installation In Transit (Arrival) would measure 1.4km.

That's a lot of metal to fit into an art gallery, but Auckland-based Lee has spent months planning and working with staff at Te Tuhi to ensure the intricate installation will fold, bend and snake throughout the East Auckland art gallery.

She had planned to construct one of her large-scale steel structures in the foyer but the more she thought about it, the more she wanted to go big. Now the installation, designed specifically for Te Tuhi and the largest she's ever made, will be everywhere in the building.

Making it has involved a contingent of a specialist wire and steel tube manufacturers, metallurgists and welders. They've produced the framework of Lee's vast, entangled structure from which she'll suspend everyday objects like coat hangers, umbrellas, bus door handles, street signs, perhaps a bed frame and maybe some pots and pans.

Former Te Tuhi curator Bruce Phillips wrote that the mundane items Lee incorporates looks as though "the flotsam and jetsam of discarded consumer products have become tangled in a metallic fishnet."

It's all part of Lee's (current) fascination with the structures that contain our lives as much as make them easier. She incorporates the type of stainless steel tubing commonly used as barriers and for handrails in train stations and airports.

It's the same railing that fences off sections of Seoul Metro stations in South Korea, the tubing that rotates in the turnstiles as you enter the New York subway, the pole you grasp as the Tube hurtles beneath London or the bars that hold your bag in place on the Shinkansen as you depart Tokyo.

Simply designed, easy to install and adaptable, it allows us to "be corralled in efficient uniformity". Lee became especially aware of it when she travelled to Seoul last year for two residencies at the SeMA Nanji and Geumcheon Art Space. She was the first New Zealand artist to get the SeMA Nanji residency and says she knew it marked a turning point in her work.

More commuting meant becoming more aware of the ways in which commuters are surrounded, mobilised and controlled through these network of barriers and turnstiles.

"I started to think more about how we move around a space; the requirements and effects on bodily movement and how it shapes our daily lives. I wanted to reflect a contemporary urban landscape using a universal item, which is also very industrial, combined with objects from our daily lives."

She exhibited a smaller version of In Transit in Seoul but was ready to occupy a whole building. Lee is excited to see how the public interacts with the giant installation.

"This is a neutral gallery space, but it has a diverse range of uses from people visiting to look at art, to those coming to make music or visit the cafe," she says. "There are a lot of different groups and people coming in so I'm interested in how it will blend into their visit and the interactions they have with it."

In Transit (Arrival) is one of several visual arts events on the Auckland Arts Festival 2017 programme. See aaf.co.nz for more.

What: Auckland Arts Festival In Transit (Arrival)
Where and when: Te Tuhi Gallery, Reeves Rd Pakuranga; March 11-July 23

- NZ Herald

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